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Danehy

The Tohono O'odham Nation's battle to open a casino near Glendale is a bit of revenge for previous injustices

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It is the understatement of all time to note that United States law hasn't been kind to Native Americans. Filmmaker Samuel Goldwyn is (probably mis-) quoted as saying that "a verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on." That also applies to just about every treaty with Native American tribes ever made and ratified by the U.S. government.

The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 prohibited white settlement in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming for all time.

It lasted six years, when members of George Custer's expedition discovered gold in the hills. Two years later, Custer was sent back in to clear the Indians out. It ended badly for both sides.

Oklahoma didn't become a state until 1907. The shorthand version for that is that the U.S. took Indians from all over the place (including Geronimo and his Chiricahuas) and dumped them in the armpit of the universe, which would remain Indian Territory for ... you know, ever! Oil was discovered, so the whites who had been filtering in began clamoring for statehood.

The five Native American tribes in the area didn't want statehood, so the U.S. passed the Curtis Act in 1898, calling for the disbanding of all Indian governments in 1906. Despite Native Americans outnumbering the whites by a 6-1 margin, Indian Territory got dragged into statehood on Nov. 16, 1907.

Perhaps the most egregious example of legal animosity toward Native Americans involved Indian suffrage in Arizona (and a few other states, including New Mexico). Native Americans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1924. That was mighty white of the government, seeing as how it came almost 60 years after the freed slaves were granted such status.

However, it did not automatically confer to Indians the right to vote. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that since Native Americans were, technically, under the guardianship of the U.S. government, they were ineligible to vote because the Arizona Constitution, as written, denied the vote to "mental incompetents and people under guardianship." It wasn't until 1948—nearly a century after the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and years after many Arizona Indians had fought and died in World War II—that suffrage was granted.

Unfortunately, these are just drops in a bucketful of outrageous official conduct stretching over centuries. That's why I smile a little bit when I learn that one tribe is using the law to its full advantage and apparently has a number of allies in the legal system.

It all started when some land on the Tohono O'odham Nation was flooded due to some federal dam projects. The tribe was allowed to buy land to make up for what was lost, even if that new land was not contiguous with the existing reservation. They picked out a nice plot of land outside of Glendale, right near where a brand-new football stadium was being built to house the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.

Around this time, the state government started sticking its nose into Indian gaming, basically trying to regulate it to death. I personally don't think the state has any business trying to control Indian gaming. The Indians were stuck on reservations, many of them pretty desolate, and when they figure out a way to make money, the state steps in and says, "No! Bad Indian. Bad!!"

I understand the state trying to get a cut of the revenue. That's just like Fanucci in The Godfather Part II trying to "wet his beak." But I believe that the tribes should be able to build as many casinos as they want.

Arizona voters approved Proposition 202 in 2002. It basically reined in the state and brought some order to the casino race. While it capped the number of casinos in Arizona, it also specifically allowed the Tohono O'odham tribe to build one more on its land and didn't specify where that land had to be. A casino right next to a huge entertainment district that includes an NFL stadium and a National Hockey League arena that also hosts concerts would probably make out OK, don't you think?

The state has joined with the two tribes (the Gila River Indian Community and the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community) that already have casinos in the Valley of the Sun to try to block the new casino, to no avail. The courts have sided with the Tohono O'odham all the way up the line. Intense lobbying has now gotten Republican congressmen Trent Franks and Paul Gosar into the act. They're going to try to pass a federal law to stop the casino from being built. Yeah, good luck with that, bitches.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell rejected almost all of the claims brought by the state and the other two tribes. All that is left is the Hail-est of all Hail Marys. The plaintiffs claim that, in campaign brochures for Proposition 202, the Tohono O'odham tribe maybe sorta maybe misled people into thinking that they wouldn't try to build the Glendale casino. Oh my God! Misleading statements in a political campaign?! I'm going to get the vapors.

I don't gamble, mostly because I understand mathematics. However, when that casino gets built, I may stop in for an overpriced diet soda to celebrate a small victory in a legal system that, for centuries, was cruel, one-sided and, quite frankly, un-American.

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